The Godzilla Effect

Hi, all. I’m Angel Castro, CTO at eYARD.

The last months brought me memories of my teenage years. I’m an X-generation man that loved to play video games. The games I enjoyed most were the strategy games, and one of the titles Ithat keep me hooked for days was the mythical SimCity, published in 1989. In this game, you are the major of a greenfield city, and it’s up to you to turn into a vibrant megapolis. I spent hours and hours designing the residential areas, the transport network, dealing with unemployment and crime rates. It was complicated to balance this complex system, but eventually, I was able to find the keystone and make it work together. From time to time, some chaotic events happened, like fires or floodings, but I dealt with these scenarios previously, so I spread fire stations as a countermeasure. Disasters were unavoidable, but I limited their effects as much as possible. After dozens of hours, everything was under control. I was a nerd lacking sun exposition, but life was nice.

And then, Godzilla appeared.

Indeed, if I remember well, she was called “Moster” -probably due to copyright issues, but the idea was the same. By surprise, a 90,000 tons reptile that breaths radioactive fire started walking in your downtown destroying everything, and killing everybody. No countermeasure was valid for this. You can only keep sat watching this lizard wreak havoc.

The morale of the “Monster” is: besides how much of a control freak you are, you cannot anticipate everything because you’re never under absolute control. And that’s a lesson that worked in the game but also in real life. Having fun playing Lego comes from imagine and building, not just to have something built and just exposing it for years (well, maybe it’s not the case for the Lego Millenium Falcon, but more or less the idea is clear).

Back in 2021, I have no time to spend on simulation and strategy games. Nowadays, I help container terminals to forecast their movements and improve their efficiency using Artificial Intelligence. These AI systems work with numerical models trained using real-life activities to call a real scenario. But I have to admit that, in the last weeks, I recalled a lot of my early days of SimCity. A chain of events is affecting most of the terminals at different levels. Things like the Ever Given, the container shortage, or lately, the Yantian congestion are making operations more unpredictable than ever. And all this is more than our IA models can handle. In some cases, the resilient red lines are passed. The system is trying to manage containers in absolutely uncharted territory. I coined the “Godzilla Effect” term. The effect was visible in data, but fortunately, no destruction or casualties are involved. Damn, it’s just like playing SimCity again.

This situation can be addressed using Complex Problem Solving, a new way of thinking I discovered last year (Thanks, @Recuenco). Our current AI models are based on stable and predictable traffic. But these models are not performing well with Godzilla in town. Is Godzilla chaotic? Yes. Is Godzilla unpredictable? In the movies, we saw that there were behavior patterns. After some analysis, we realize that last months’ traffic is unprecedented but not entirely random. So we can try to address these scenarios, but we’re going to need something new and different. We started to create “Godzilla” models, models that are not good in the long term but perform better when things become weird. We can swap models depending on the situation of the terminal, and the terminals would have one worry less.

At eYARD we rely as much as possible on automation. We’re true believers because doing repetitive things manually is not the best way to use our talent. It’s like the Airbus pilot approach (in comparison with Boing philosophy. More details here). We let computers do their job until something weird happens. We actively monitor the terminal’s data to be sure that our system is performing best. But if something strange is going on, we jump into the controls: time to start analyzing and taking action. And when everything is back to normal, we let the autopilot do their business again.

We’re sure that international container traffic will eventually be back to normal. But even if there’s a big lizard playing around out there, we can help you to improve your terminal operations saving shifters and operational costs. Don’t hesitate to contact us and let us tell you how can we help you. Or we can talk about how wrong my family was about the waste of time video games were.

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